Opera: Misper Glyndebourne

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The Independent Culture
Think "Glyndebourne" and you think well-heeled riff-raff, champers in the gardens. Only then do you think about opera. Well, there were no picnickers at Glyndebourne last weekend, and the operagoers had an altogether different way about them: much noisier, for a start, much less likely to elbow you out of the queue for interval drinks.

For this was the first time that Glyndebourne Education had presented a project (here involving professional singers alongside performers from schools and colleges) on the Glyndebourne stage and the presence of dozens upon dozens of children on-stage was naturally acclaimed by hundreds more in the auditorium. Very well-behaved they were too, on both sides of the proscenium. What brought them there was Misper, an opera by composer Stephen Lunn and librettist Stephen Plaice, developed through educational workshops in collaboration with director Stephen Langridge and designer Alison Chitty.

The idea was to involve the students (age range about eight to 16) in the conception of the piece so that they would recognise it as, in some degree, their opera about the world. So it is that we had playground bullies and nascent sexuality, casual vandalism and numbskull coppers. All very veristic, all very credible, and rendered operatic through two rather more fantastic plot elements. One concerned a 12th-century Chinese scribe who becomes the missing person of the title when he travels to the 20th- century to befriend dreamy loner Frank (John Berry). The other saw the intervention of Vicky Phoenix, a character from an occultish TV series called PhoeniX-Files who helps heroine Julie (Gemma Ticehurst) when things get tough.

The fantasy element yielded a wonderfully zany showpiece in the Chinese Emperor's library where boring books clamoured for the tiny Emperor's attention; while the scene in which Julie seeks help from her favourite TV character was touching and amusing, and, in a duet for the two of them, gave Julie her best music. It would be misleading to say that the professionals (including Omar Ebrahim as Misper and Melanie Pappenheim as Vicky Phoenix) didn't occasionally upstage the younger singers, who weren't always helped by erratic amplification, but the divisions weren't too damaging.

John Lunn's music was rasping and brassy, lots of thumping timpani and pseudo-oriental percussion (the East Sussex Academy of Music Youth Orchestra, conducted by Andrea Quinn). If vocal lines for the grown-ups were more declamatory than lyrical, the kids got something lighter, more show tunes than rock or pop. Occasionally something more abrasive wouldn't have gone amiss, but as bullying Frank, Ben Davies got real aggression into his rant of "Stick, stick, stick the rules to ya: one day soon I'll get even with school."

Conventional criteria are, at best, secondary with projects like this, but Misper was a genuine show, staged with wit and performed with gusto. We may, or may not, have been watching the stars of tomorrow; what matters is that, through four performances, these young singers became stars today.